Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ferguson Distinctions

Now that the Ferguson, Missouri, tragedy is winding down, now is probably a good time to take stock of the situation. My sources are three articles: from The Militant (by Dan Fein), Socialist Action (by Clay Wadena), and Counterpunch (by Ishmael Reed). Except for Mr. Reed's piece (dated this weekend) the other two articles are old news, reflecting Trotskyist publication schedules.

Mr. Reed's piece is completely over the top. He headlines the (irrelevant) fact that Gaza Palestinians are tweeting instructions about how to hold an insurrection. Further, supposedly some St. Louis County policeman once worked in Israel. This, to Mr. Reed, makes for just stunning parallels between Gaza and Ferguson.

So let's count the ways how Hamas and Ferguson demonstrators are different.

  • Blacks are not lobbing random missiles into White neighborhoods.
  • Blacks are not advocating the mass murder of American Jews (or anybody else).
  • Blacks are not storing military weapons in apartment buildings.
  • The US military is not bombing apartment buildings in order to destroy those weapons.
  • Unlike Gazans and Israel, Black Americans are citizens, and entitled to full constitutional privileges.
Socialist Action repeats this particular slander, essentially accusing Black residents of Ferguson of being terrorists. They are not terrorists.

Indeed, far from being terrorists, Ferguson's Black residents are victims. First, Michael Brown (age 18) was shot and killed. That may or may not turn out to be a justified homicide in the law enforcement sense of the word, but it is in any event a tragedy. His family does not deserve the vitriol directed against them by some on the Right.

Second, there is no question that Ferguson's local government no longer serves the interest of its citizens. Both the city government and the police department are majority white, in a town that is now two-thirds Black. Megan McArdle convincingly explains why: the demographics of the community has changed dramatically over the last two decades. The police department, in particular, is unionized and they can't easily be fired. Further, just like college professors, police tend to hire their own kind. No question--Ferguson needs a different police department.

Third, law enforcement in America has clearly gone off the rails. Rand Paul (a Republican) is among the more prominent politicians to point this out, in a widely cited opinion piece in Time. Republicans have been loudest in advocating the repeal of punitive drug laws, of all sorts of nanny-state regulations, and of stupid laws that prevent honest people from earning a living. Some suggest that the average American commits three felonies per day. That may be an exaggeration, but Mr. Reed is absolutely correct when he claims that Black folks are disproportionately arrested. We need to stop doing that.

I watch Cops occasionally. One episode in particular disturbs me: an undercover cop arresting a Black teenager for drug possession. It's dumb, it's unAmerican, and that cop should be fired.

Fourth, I read somewhere (wish I could tell you where and when) that of 175 people arrested, only 7 were Ferguson residents. That is, the Black folks who live in Ferguson are civilized people. The looters, the rock-throwers, the gangsters--those come from outside the community. So in addition to the cops, Ferguson residents are being victimized by thugs. The thugs don't care that the QuikTrip store won't reopen, or that it might be impossible to buy a gallon of milk within the town. No--that's only a problem for the regular folks.

What Ferguson residents did do is exercise their right to free speech and for a redress of grievances. The "hands-up, don't shoot" demonstrators may be right or wrong on the issues, but they are NOT the problem. They are American citizens, and they have as much right to demonstrate as I have to write this blog. To the cops' credit, apparently they also understand that--they've only arrested 7 Ferguson people.

The Militant also gets it. Of the three articles, it is the only one that makes any distinction between honest citizens and gangsters. Socialist Action lumps them together, and Mr. Reed goes so far as to valorize the thugs--witness his favorable comparison to Hamas.

So what is the larger significance of Ferguson? One hopes that it leads to a change in our criminal code. We need a whole lot fewer felonies. The cops need to protect us, not harass us for non-crimes.

What most strikes me is that the unrest has not spread. Unlike 1967, there's no mass looting of stores in Black neighborhoods. That's because we have made a lot of progress on racial issues over the past half century. There is no reason to destroy your own neighborhood anymore (not that there ever was a very good reason).

Blacks and whites are different people. We may not always like each other. But it looks like we have mostly learned how to live together reasonably peacefully. I think that's progress.

Further Reading:

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